People often experience unwelcome and intrusive thoughts. But older adults appear to interpret them differently than younger adults, according to a new study. Joshua Magee of the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Bethany Teachman of the University of Virginia, recruited 51 adults between the ages of 18 and 30, and 49 adults over age 65, to determine if their moods were affected by their ability to suppress intrusive thoughts. The researchers said, “Suppression effort has been predicted to be an ineffective long-term strategy for controlling intrusive thoughts, and it has been linked to trait anxiety in older adults but may be effective in some cases at reducing actual thought recurrence in the short-term.”
The team measured the participants for anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive behaviors at baseline, and again at two separate points throughout the study. The test subjects were instructed to write a phrase that elicited distressful thoughts and focus on it for 40 seconds. They recorded how often and how long they had intrusive negative thoughts by hitting a key on a keyboard. After, each participant was given either a suppression or thought monitoring task. They were again asked to record the frequency and duration of intrusive thoughts over four minutes. At the end, the participants were asked to record how much effort they used to suppress or control the intrusive thoughts. The researchers found that the older group thought it required more effort to suppress intrusive thoughts than the younger group; however the older group actually experienced decreased recurrence of negative thoughts. Additionally, the older group had more positive affect after experiencing the intrusive thoughts. The study also revealed that each group gave different meanings to their ability suppress or control the thoughts. “Specifically, older adults were prone to interpret the recurrence of intrusive thoughts as a sign of cognitive decline, but they were less likely than younger adults to see intrusive thoughts as a sign of moral failure,” said the team. “Together, these results highlight a range of potential risk and protective factors in older adults for experiencing emotion dysregulation after intrusive thoughts.”
Magee, J. C., & Teachman, B. A. (2011, June 27). Distress and Recurrence of Intrusive Thoughts in Younger and Older Adults. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024249
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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